The Fantastic World of Les Lalanne

Sheep-shaped chairs designed by Francois-Xavier Lalanne in the home of Roger Vivier. Photo by Carlo Bavagnoli/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne, collectively known as "Les Lalanne," are the perfect couple for my first art history feature. If you have been following me for a while, you will see that I am particularly drawn to anyone creating at the intersection of fine art and design. I love an artist who can't be placed in one box. 

Les Lalanne were one of the most dynamic husband and wife duos of the 20th century. They blurred the line between the fine and decorative arts, sometimes creating functional objects or furniture, and other times pure sculpture, always imbuing their work with a sense of fantasy and whimsy. 

François-Xavier and Claude Lalanne. Photography by Pierre Boulat.

 

Courtesy of Kasmin Gallery

François-Xavier Lalanne, Babouin, 1984/1990, cast iron, Les Lalanne © 2019 Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York, NY/ADAGP, Paris, France

 

Yves Saint Laurent in his garden with sheep by Les Lalanne and models wearing the Haute Couture A/W69 collection with sculpted busts and waists by Claude Lalanne.

Over the long course of their marriage, François-Xavier, and Claude often worked together in distinctly different styles. They rarely collaborated on an individual piece. The 1970s brought about a renewed interest in nature and the organic that inspired both Lalanne's. François-Xavier was more drawn to the animal kingdom, while Claude leaned more towards the botanical. Nevertheless, they were united in the sense of humor that they brought to their work. It is well known that the couple feared only boredom. Of their sheep, François-Xavier once said, "I thought it would be funny to invade that big living room with a flock of sheep. It is, after all, easier to have a sculpture in an apartment than to have real sheep. And, it's even better if you can sit on it!" I grew up with a family of Lalanne sheep in my grandmother's garden. As a child, I just thought they were fun toys to play with and make-believe. As I got older, I realized their significance. Now I watch my children playing on the sheep and often think that Les Lalanne would approve. They meant their work to spark joy and playfulness. 

Playing with my daughter at my grandmother's house. Photo by Lacie Hansen

Les Lalanne believed art should be a part of everyday life. They challenged the boundaries of art and design. They were dismissed art first but insisted on making sculptures that had use and were eventually embraced. They were the darlings of the fashion world and worked with the likes of Saint Laurent, Givenchy, and Karl Lagerfeld. Their work now appears in significant collections around the world.